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How Five Nights at Freddy’s Invented a New Kind of Horror

Seeing game merch in big box stores always throws me off-guard, especially when I see advertising choices that just make no sense for the games they’re from. Like, sure, Super Mario T-shirts and Creeper backpacks make sense: those are both kid-friendly genres. But if your first experience with Five Nights at Freddy’s was in the toy aisle, looking at themed plushies, kids PJs, and Halloween masks, you might be surprised when you go to play the game yourself. With 7 mainline games, 4 spin-offs, and an entire novel series, it’s kind of amazing to think that this series started as a game dev’s last one-off before he planned to leave the industry. Here’s what you need to know about the horror series that makes me seriously rethink all those childhood birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese.

Five Nights at Freddy's
Courtesy of Youtube, Typhoon Cinema

Prior to the hit series, creator Scott Cawthon was known for his work in Christian-friendly kids games, of all things. However, upon one too many criticisms of one of his games, Chipper & Sons Lumber Co, Cawthon decided to take what had been a detriment for that game and turn it into the main selling point for Freddy’s. While ‘scary animatronic animals’ were not a selling point for a family-friendly game like Chipper, it was just the right thing for a pizzeria-inspired survival horror title. 

But unlike other survival horror titles, you have no offensive weapons at your disposal in FNaF. The entire gameplay is limited to a single room that you then must defend from intrusion, managing limited resources to survive until 6AM. No guns or knives, like Resident Evil, and unlike some of the more open world environments like Soma or Outlast, where the player has an environment to explore, with monsters and scares hiding behind corners, many of the games in FNaF limit the player to a single, small, security room with nowhere to hide. While later games in the franchise improve and adapt on this core gameplay concept, the main idea remains the same: haunted animatronics are making their way towards you. If they get to you, you’d better be prepared for a fright. Whether through the vents or through poorly-lit hallways, there’s only so long you can hide.

Whether it takes place in a pizzeria, a horror amusement park, a bedroom, or an underground facility, this core gameplay loop is what keeps bringing players like Markiplier and Dawko back for each new installment. Both YouTubers formed large communities and followings while playing this franchise, and numerous theorists and lore enthusiasts such as MatPat from the series Game Theory have made dozens of videos and ideas surrounding the story of this strange, haunted pizzeria. MatPat in particular went so far as to make his own real-world horror experience to see how real people would handle the horrors of Freddy’s. Spoiler alert: they didn’t do great. 

Not only that, but numerous fan games and spinoffs have spawned from the game series, and with a new game slated to release in late 2020 and a book series well in the works, now seems to be the perfect time to give this Halloween standby a look. Or maybe just stick to watching highlights of other people getting scared shitless and avoid the nightmares of Chuck E. Cheese running at you with a knife.

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